The year was 1970, and Bill Russell had retired. That meant the NBA's Eastern conference was up for grabs. The New York Knicks, a team without a huge superstar filled the void and would battle Wilt Chamberlain's Los Angeles Lakers. It was a back and forth series that found itself tied at 2-2. That's where the legend of Willis Reed begins.
I turn it over to NBA.com for the narration:
With a little more than eight minutes gone in the first quarter, Los Angeles had raced to a 25-15 lead. Then Reed caught a pass at the foul line, and Chamberlain was there to meet him. Reed went to his left around Wilt but tripped over Wilt's foot and fell forward, tearing a large muscle in his leg. The New York center lay writhing in pain as the action raced the other way...
The Knicks managed to win that game 107-100 without Reed, but with time for the Lakers to scheme against a Willis-less Knicks, they dominated game six 135-113 with Wilt dominating the post for 45 points..
The stage was set in New York for the seventh-game drama. Would Reed play? The Knicks left the locker room for warm-ups not knowing. Just before they took the floor, Bradley and DeBusschere had asked Reed to give the team just one half. About 20 minutes would do it, they figured. In the training room, Reed was set to receive painkilling injections. "It was a big needle," Reed recalled. "I saw that needle and I said, 'Holy cow.' And I just held on. I think I suffered more from the needle than the injury."
The doctors had to place the injections at various places and various depths across his thigh in an effort to numb the tear. "I wanted to play," he remembered. "That was the championship, the one great moment we had all played for since 1969. I didn't want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years later and say that I wished I had tried to play."
When Reed strode onto the Garden floor just before game time that Friday, May 8, it brought an overwhelming roar from the crowd. "The scene is indelibly etched in my mind," Frazier said later, "because if that did not happen, I know we would not have won the game." The Knicks watched him hobble out, and each of them soaked in the emotion from the noise.
He stepped into the circle against Wilt for the tipoff but remained immobile during the jump. That changed once play began. Reed scored New York's first two baskets and played incredibly active defense.
Seventeen times the Lakers jammed the ball into Chamberlain in the post. Reed harassed him into shooting 2-for-9. Reed finished 2-for-5 with four fouls and three rebounds, but it was enough.
The emotional charge sent the rest of the Knicks zipping through their paces. They simply ran away from the Lakers. New York led 9-2, then 15-6, then 30-17. When Reed left the game, having delivered the half that Bradley had asked for, New York led 61-37. From there, the Knicks rolled on to claim owner Ned Irish's first title, 113-99.
Another personally painful but admittedly epic and gutsy performance that many remember is the "Bloody Sock Game." The Yankees were playing great baseball with ace Mike Mussina leading a pitching staff and star sluggers like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Gary Sheffield. Curt Schilling tore the tendon sheath in his right ankle in the ALDS and got shelled in Game 1 against the Yankees.
The Yankees were up 3-2 heading into Game 6 after the Red Sox stole games four and five. The Red Sox only scored four runs, all in the fourth inning, but Schilling, bleeding through his sock went 7 IP allowing only 1 ER. It's arguably the greatest moment in Red Sox lore and even moreso because it came against their rival.
Finally, on November 29th, 2014 Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers etched their names into the history books. Their rivals owned a five game win streak, despite being the vastly inferior program historically. The Gamecocks had 17 fewer conference titles, no national titles, and over 100 fewer total wins, but were experiencing the greatest stretch in their history. They had beaten the best quarterback the Tigers have thrown at them (Tajh Boyd) since #4 Steve Fuller all three times they faced him and chipped into Clemson's then 65-42-4 record in the rivalry.
Clemson was having a pedestrian season, losing to Florida State early which boxed them out of a conference championship shot, and losing to both Georgia and Georgia Tech. In the Georgia Tech game, Clemson was dominating early, but just before Watson could lead the Tigers into the end zone for a 10-0 lead, he suffered a non-contact knee injury, later diagnosed as a sprained LCL and bone bruise. Cole Stoudt would come in and have the worst game of his career, throwing three interceptions - two returned for touchdowns - and finishing with just 19 passing yards. Clemson lost handily, meaning the only way Clemson could view their season as a success in any way would be to beat South Carolina and end the streak.
Watson did not play in the preceding game against Georgia State, which Clemson won 28-0 behind a great defensive performance and budding run game. The following week was filled with injury updates and news on Watson's progress. Would he play against the Cocks? Everyone wanted to know.
Dabo seemingly tipped his hand by saying he looked good in practice and could play. On the day before the game he listed Watson as probable. Sure enough, Watson came out for the first series and Clemson's offense looked electric, moving through the much-maligned Gamecock defense. The Tigers ran out to a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter.
Clemson's offense then came out without Watson, whose leg was giving him issues. The ensuing drive was brief, ending in an interception that the Gamecocks turned into a field goal. Clemson knelled on their next drive to take it into halftime, leaving fans hoping Watson could return.
Watson wanted to play, despite the pain, and returned for the second half. Clemson leaned on their running game, but the threat of Watson's laser accuracy as well as some clutch third down throws salted the game away.
Here's the kicker:
Dabo: Deshaun Watson played today w/ partially torn ACL. Will play in the bowl game, then have surgery, rehab, miss spring, back in summer.— Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) November 29, 2014
Watson's injury was worse than we knew. Not only was he playing with a sprained LCL and bone bruise, but he suffered an ACL injury in practice. Dabo never let this hit the media, never letting Coach Spurrier know quite how limited Deshaun Watson really was.
Watson, wearing Steve Fuller's iconic #4 jersey, finished 14/19 with 269 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and no interceptions. Maybe more amazing, he also rushed for two scores.
In his support was true freshman Artavis Scott who finished with 185 passing yards and two TDs, redshirt freshman Wayne "Train" Gallman who ran for a career high 191 yards, and an offensive line that broke from season-long struggles to clear running lanes and allow zero sacks.
The win gave Clemson their first victory over Steve Spurrier since Dabo Swinney was an interim coach in 2008 and moved to the Tigers to 9-3. It dropped South Carolina to 6-6, ending their run of greatness and shifting the rivalry back to where it had been for the 111 years prior. The win moved Clemson to 66-42-4 in the history of the Palmetto Bowl.
Deshaun Watson played through pain when the team needed him. In the words of Walt Frazier:
"Because if that did not happen, I know we would not have won the game." - Walt Frazier